(CNN)President Barack Obama on Wednesday delivered a fervent appeal for a Democratic successor, wading deeper into the race to replace him even as his party has yet to produce a presumptive nominee.
Without mentioning any presidential candidates by name — Democrat or Republican — Obama lambasted what he said were economic myths peddled by the GOP, insisting any clear-eyed assessment shows the country better off now then when he took office.
Speaking in Elkhart, Indiana, a city he frequented at the beginning of his term as he worked to stave off an economic depression, Obama listed every major economic achievement of his presidency, from expanding overtime rules to tightening regulations on big banks.
And while he made clear, specific references to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, Obama steered away from lauding the economic plans being offered by the two Democrats vying for the party's nomination.
“If we turn against each other based on divisions of race or religion, if we fall for a bunch of ‘okey-doke,' just because it sounds funny or the tweets are provocative, then we're not going to build on the progress we started,” Obama said. “If we get cynical and just vote our fears, or if we don't vote at all, we won't build on the progress that we started.”
During his hour-long remarks, Obama cast the upcoming general election as a choice between his own policies and those that would only benefit wealthy Americans. But because the Democratic primary race is still being fought between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Obama avoided making any specific case for a candidate that would carry on his agenda.
Clinton is all but assured to secure the Democratic nomination, and it's little secret that Obama regards his former secretary of state as the natural heir to his presidency. But on Wednesday, the only mention of the word “Clinton” during his speech came when he lauded lower deficits during President Bill Clinton's presidency.
Instead, Obama spoke in broader terms about the upcoming vote.
“If what you care about in this election is your pocketbook, if what you're concerned about is who will look out for the interests of working people and grow the middle class, if that's what you're concerned about — the economy — the debate is not even close,” Obama said, at one point calling Trump's proposal to eliminate new banking regulations “crazy.”
“I don't care whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent. Why would you do that? Less oversight on Wall Street would only make another crisis more likely,” Obama said. “How can you say you're for the middle class and then you want to tear down these rules?”
“Don't think that actually this agenda is going to help you,” Obama continued. “It's not designed to help you. And the evidence of the last 30 years, not to mention common sense, should tell you their answers to our challenges are no answers at all.”
Ahead of his remarks Wednesday, a White House source said Obama was chomping at the bit to get out and “get people fired up” about the upcoming election, though the source conceded Obama will remain largely on the sidelines until the Democrats have a nominee.
Obama expects to “explode onto the scene” once the nominee is selected and “knows his power” to fire up the Democratic base, the source said.
“It's driving him crazy” to be mostly hands-off, the source added.
In his speech, Obama used his strongest language this year to push back against GOP proposals.
“In today's economy, we can't put up walls around America. We're not going to round up 11 million people, we're not going to put technology back in the box, we're not going to rip away hard-earned rights for women and minorities and Americans with disabilities,” Obama said. “These are permanent fixtures in our economy and rolling them back will not help folks in Elkhart or anywhere else.”
Later, Obama claimed a Republican president would “lead to lower wages, it would eliminate worker protections, it would cut investments in things like education, it would weaken the safety net, it would kick people off health insurance, it would let China write the rules for the global economy, it would let big oil write the rules that protect our air and water, it would let big banks weaken rules that protect families from getting cheated, it would cut taxes for wealthy Americans to historic lows.”
Obama was returning to Concord Community High School — the site of his first major trip as President — to a town that has dramatically recovered from the recession. Since Obama's first speech there, Elkhart's unemployment rate has dropped from 19.6% to 4.1% today, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Manufacturing and graduation rates in Elkhart have also significantly improved from 2009.
In a statement, Michael Short a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Obama was “trying to convince voters his record of weak growth, stagnant wages and a shrinking middle class is really a success story.”
“The fact that there are 264,000 fewer manufacturing jobs today than when President Obama took office more than seven years ago is a stark reminder of the failure of his policies,” Short said.
In his final year in office, Obama has been returning to sites in the U.S. with significance for his presidential tenure. In February, he visited Springfield, Illinois, where he first announced in 2007 he was running for the White House.